2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata

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2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata

This 2006 review is representative of model years 2006 to 2014.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 9

Bottom Line:

Better than ever, the Miata retains its iconic status.
Pros:
  • Nicely redesigned
  • More power
  • More fun to drive
Cons:
  • Large transmission tunnel
  • Offbeat gauge number placement
  • Scant cargo room

The Mazda MX-5 Miata resurrected the two-seat sports car roadster market in America when introduced in 1989 and thus has earned iconic status while becoming one of the world's top-selling two-seat convertibles.

The 2006 Miata is genuinely new because it shares no parts with previous models, although it's easily recognizable as a Miata. This third-generation Miata should continue to be popular despite new rivals such as the Pontiac Solstice because Mazda has been making the car for so long that it's got it down pat.

The original Miata was designed mainly for the U.S. and was an instant hit since its debut at the Chicago Auto Show. It was cute, simple, light, durable and only cost $13,800. There was no way it could miss. It took up where once-popular but dated, discontinued mass-volume British sports cars left off. The Miata was a reliable copy of the brilliant-but-unreliable low volume British Lotus Elan.

Name Games
Mazda prefers to call the 2006 MX-5 Miata just the "MX-5" in keeping with other Mazdas that have alphanumeric nomenclature, such as the Mazda3 and RX-8. Mazda says it will keep the Miata name in advertising in America, which is the only country where the MX-5 has carried the "Miata" name. (Ever hear a Miata owner refer to his car as the "MX-5?")

But the new Miata only carries MX-5 badging, and Mazda says the Miata part of the name "eventually will be phased out."

While still looking like a Miata, the 2006 version has new, more muscular styling. It's 2 inches longer, 1.6 inches wider and nearly an inch taller. Wheelbase length is up by 2.5 inches, mainly to provide more cockpit space.

Lots of Improvements
Improved steering, suspension and brakes make the Miata more fun than ever—and the 1989 version still is a kick to drive. The quick power steering is perfect for a sports car and handling is superb. The supple suspension delivers a comfortable ride, and the brake peal has the right feel.

Six trim levels are offered, with list prices ranging from $20,435 to $24,435 for most models. They're the Club Spec, Standard, Touring, Sport and Grand Touring.

Also built—and maybe gone by now—have been 750 of the $26,700 Third-Generation Limited model. It has unique interior and exterior trim, traction control, anti-skid system, sport suspension, limited-slip differential, xenon headlights and satellite radio.

Fairly Well Equipped
Even the $20,435 Club Spec is fairly well equipped, with such items as a 5-speed manual transmission, an AM/FM/CD player, power windows and mirrors and 50-series tires on 16-inch wheels.

Move to the $21,435 Standard and added are such items as air conditioning, while the $22,435 Touring adds power door locks with remote keyless entry. The $22,935 Sport adds a 6-speed manual gearbox and wider tires on 17-inch wheels, while the $24,435 Grand Touring adds leather upholstery and a Bose sound system.

Options include traction control, an anti-skid system and a sport suspension—none of which are frivolous items.

Safety Features
Standard safety features include anti-lock brakes and side airbags.

While larger, with a stronger body, the Miata only weighs 27 pounds more than its predecessor, due to new materials and technologies to trim weight, improve crashworthiness and increase rigidity.

Mazda long has been fanatical about holding down the Miata's weight because excessive weight would cause it to lose its lively performance and nimbleness. Mazda even simplified the design of the rearview mirror to save less than a pound. Only race car builders usually show such concerned about weight.

The new Miata feels more solid than its predecessor because, for example, torsional rigidity is up nearly 50 percent.

Roomier
There's more room for longer torsos, with extra legroom and headroom. Fore-and-aft seat adjustment is up 2 inches and added is a new tilt steering wheel adjuster with 1.3 inches of vertical movement.

The 4-cylinder engine has been moved back 5.3 inches toward the cockpit—a lot for a small car—to get 50/50 weight distribution for better handling. However, the move results in a transmission tunnel that takes up a fair amount of interior room and causes rather narrow footwells.

Hefty door handles help allow easy entry, but the low-slung car calls for extra effort to get out. Occupants sit low, with elbows sticking up a little when arms are draped on door tops.

Seats provide good support and controls are well placed in the nicely designed cockpit. Gauges can be easily read once a driver gets used to the fact that their numbers are rather oddly positioned—as if someone twisted the gauge faces slightly. Mazda calls it a "racer-style" setup, but it's slightly annoying.

Interior materials are far from the Maserati class, but don't look cheap.

Pack Carefully
While small, the trunk is nicely shaped and fairly roomy for a small car, although careful packing is needed. The trunk lid raises well out of the way on hydraulic struts. There are several small, concealed in-cabin storage areas, but in-cabin storage space is just adequate.

The manual top can easily be lowered by a driver without leaving the car and has a heated glass rear window. There is only moderate wind buffeting in the cockpit at highway speeds with the top lowered. It fits snugly when raised.

New Engine
A new 2.0-liter, 170-horsepower aluminum engine replaces a 1.8-liter, 142-horsepower 4-cylinder. It works with a 5- or 6-speed manual gearbox with one of the best shifters in the business, although a fair amount of shifting is needed for the best acceleration.

Horsepower of the dual-overhead-camshaft 16-valve engine is rated at 166 if the Miata is equipped with a newly available $1,100 6-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel shift paddles; this unit replaces a 4-speed automatic.

Fuel economy is an estimated 25 mpg in the city and 30 on highways with the 5-speed manual and 24 and 30 with the 6-speed manual. The figures are 23 and 30 with the automatic.

The Miata is quick, doing 0-60 mph in 7 seconds with the 6-speed manual, but driving fun—not acceleration times—always has been what the Miata is all about.

As with the old Miatas, the latest version shows you can get a car that's a blast to drive without spending a lot.

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BB05 - 4/23/2014 8:56:24 PM